The Marshall Project

Shock Treatment in Court

Some states control defendants by making them wear 50,000-volt stun cuffs, but the practice is open to abuse.

James Calvert had been a difficult defendant. On trial in 2015 on charges of murdering his wife and kidnapping his son, Calvert had chosen to represent himself, but was having trouble following the judge’s instructions to stand up when addressing the Smith County court in East Texas.

Heightening the tension, Calvert, who was considered a security risk, wore an electronic stun cuff on his right leg capable of delivering an extended jolt of 50,000 volts. Throughout the trial, Judge Jack Skeen had threatened to activate it.

“If I’m sitting here, I’m no security threat,” Calvert said, according to court records cited in an appeal later filed by Calvert’s lawyer.

“I’m not talking a security threat,” Skeen replied. “I’m talking about you listening to

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